April 11, 2005
What's the Proper Usage of "Ironic"
Posted by Christine Hurt

A reader points out that although my usage of "comprise" is spot-on, my statement that the proper use of the term is "more honored in the breach" is quite off.  Although I'd never paid close attention, the phrase is used to describe situations where the waiving of a custom is a more honorable practice than devotion to it.  I can't think of a good modern example, but maybe readers can.

Anyway, when I quit laughing at myself I'll be sheepish at my attempt to show off my superior writing talent.

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Comments (4)

1. Posted by Dave! on April 12, 2005 @ 0:16 | Permalink

I'm showing my politics here, but I think this would be proper usage:

When the country is in a time of war, lavish Presidential Inaugural festivities are a custom more honored in the breach.

(With apologies to Shakespeare...)

2. Posted by Christine Hurt on April 12, 2005 @ 7:32 | Permalink

Good example -- I agree with both form and substance!

3. Posted by nitpicky on April 12, 2005 @ 7:45 | Permalink

I don't agree... regardless of the origins of the phrase (Hamlet) "a custom more honored in the breach" does NOT mean it is sometimes more honorable to breach the custom. In modern usage, to say that a custom is honored mainly in the breach is to say that lip service is paid to the custom, but rarely more than lip service.

4. Posted by therisingjurist on April 12, 2005 @ 10:21 | Permalink

This is another one of those phrases, like "begs the question," that had one specific meaning that was abandoned as incorrect usage became popular.

"A custom more honored in the breach," as used in Hamlet, refers to a rule that is better broken than obeyed. But people tend to use the phrase to refer to a rule that is often broken in practice. The former passes a judgment on the rule, while the latter simply observes a practice.

While I would like to say that the latter is incorrect, that is how everyone uses it. And if the recent update to Webster's is any indication, incorrect usage becomes correct if enough people do it.

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